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Alexandre TANSMAN (1897-1986)
Chamber Music with Clarinet
Musique for clarinet and string quartet (1982) [10:07]
Musique à Six for clarinet, string quartet, and piano (1977) [19:57]
Trois Pieces for clarinet, harp, and string quartet (1970) [8:27]
Triptyque for string quartet (1930) [16:06]
Jean-Marc Fessard (clarinet; bass clarinet)
Eliane Reyes (piano)
Francis Pierre (harp)
Quatuor Elysée
rec. Studio de Meudon, Paris, France, 20-23 April 2006
NAXOS 8.570235 [54:44]

It’s heartening to see that artists are giving Alexandre Tansman’s music greater representation in the world of recordings.  In the past year, several discs of Tansman’s music have made appearances and have been reviewed on this site, from his orchestral music to works for flute. 

In other works that I’d heard and reviewed, it was relatively easy to hear Tansman’s affinity for light music and the popular music of the time — the foxtrot and other dances, and aspects of his symphonic music reflected the busy urban bustle of the 20s.  In these works here presented, the influence of Debussy and Ravel - the latter being a direct support to Tansman’s work — moves to the forefront.  Born in Poland, he spent much of his creative life in Paris, where he died in 1986. 

It appears that Tansman had an affinity for wind instruments.  In addition to the works recorded here, there are various works for flute and piano (a sonatine is available on Acte Préalable AP0137), there are various works for bassoon.  There are nine symphonies to his credit, as well as eight string quartets. He also wrote in collaboration with Milhaud, Stravinsky and Schoenberg. 

Most of the works here are rather late compositions, including the piece that opens up the disc, the Musique for clarinet and string quartet, which was his last chamber work.  All but the last work on this disc consist of quick scherzo-like sections framed by slow movements. The Canzona of the Musique of 1982 settles strangely like nightfall; the clarinet is the undisputed center of attention, with a long melodic line under which the string quartet provides support.  The Scherzo middle movement sounds very much like the work of Bacewicz, another contemporary Polish composer whose music has seen a resurgence in recordings of late.  The cello’s pizzicati drives the rhythm along while the rest of the quartet and the clarinet scrabble for a foothold.  The movement seems to find its foothold in a sound that recalls traditional Polish dances, but seen through the lens of Ravel, then a brief episode where the material is treated fugally.  There is a pause before the clarinet’s narrative, which launches the ensemble into an energetic coda. It’s a lot to pack into a four-minute passage without sounding overloaded and busy, but the piece shows poise and humour. 

It also doffs its figurative hat to the longer and earlier Musique à Six that follows.  Again, we have a slow, nocturnal opening movement that has a quiet uneasy sense of suspension that fans of Morton Feldman’s music would appreciate.  Sparse chords from the piano punctuate the fluid strings that stay in their upper register.  The clarinet again takes the role of narrator.  With the first movement titled Preludio and the following movement an intermezzo, the weight of emphasis rests, as with the Musique of 1982, on the fast movement, which has a specific echo in the fast movement of that later piece.  Again, we have a sound that is reminiscent of Polish folk tunes and Bacewicz’s chamber works.  After a wonderful Notturno movement — of which Feldman fans again should take note -- the piece moves more overtly into Polish folk music before ending on a slow postlude that brings back the nocturnal elements of the prelude.  A greatly enjoyable work. 

The harp opens the three pieces latest composition on this disc, but again, the clarinet takes over as main mouthpiece for the ensemble.  Both of the slow movements in this piece have a wonderfully uneasy nocturnal beauty.  The ensemble is wonderfully well balanced and the recording aesthetic is warmly intimate.  The last movement begins as a slow movement to mirror the first, but ends as a rousing quick movement. 

To fill out the disc we have the last—and earliest—work, which the liner notes mention is one of Tansman’s most often performed works.  The Triptyque for string quartet has less of the unsettled strangeness that permeates the later pieces and more drive.  It begins with a relatively short Allegro that has snatches of folk music and bustles along, but, as with the other works on this disc, Tansman’s focus is on the slow movements.  In the andante, the viola begins with a statement of the thematic material as the rest of the ensemble makes separate entrances.  The closing finale movement is, as with some of the other quick movements in the other pieces on this disc, perpetuum mobile, driven by the lower strings.  The Quatuor Elysée plays this piece with great poise and sensitivity. 

Overall, a greatly enjoyable disc, well-recorded and performed. I certainly am looking forward to further recordings of works by this composer.  For those who enjoy Stravinsky and Ravel, as well as the work of Milhaud, they certainly wouldn’t go wrong in giving this disc a listen. More please!

David Blomenberg




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